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Which estate planning documents will help you meet your goals?

You've been thinking about the future and the idea that life is short, even for those who are fortunate enough to maintain good health in mind and body. However, after reading several news stories about various music and movie stars who died without ever executing final wills and testaments, you have determined that you do not wish to place your Pennsylvania loved ones in a similar situation when the time comes for you to go. The stress and headaches they may endure if your estate becomes intestate are many.

That's why you've been considering filing an estate plan. The problem is you're not quite sure how to begin other than knowing it's typically not the greatest idea to simply gather your family around your coffee table and announce who gets what when you die (although some people do that, but it doesn't usually turn out so well).

Key documents with which you'll want to become familiar

The beauty of estate planning is that it's so customizable. There isn't a written-in-stone way you have to do it, although there are state laws that govern certain matters, such as taxes and other probate issues. The following list shows some of the most common types of documents included in an average estate plan:

  • Wills: Most people have heard this word in conjunction with the estate planning process. However, there are two main types of wills and you may determine a need to use one or both in your plan. A living will is a means for you to write instructions about certain types of medical care you want or do not want to receive in a life or death situation if you are unable to speak for yourself at the time. A final will and testament, on the other hand, is a document that lists your heirs and beneficiaries and everything having to do with the distribution of your assets when you die.
  • Power of attorney: You may also designate one or more people to act on your behalf to make financial or medical decisions at such time that you become incapacitated. This document is often included in advanced directives, which is another term for a living will as mentioned earlier.
  • Intent letter: If you have special wishes pertaining to your own burial or wish to emphasize some other point with regard to a particular asset or other issues in your estate plan, you may write a letter of intent that the court will give to your executor when the time comes to administer your estate. For instance, you may wish to exclude a particular party from any inheritance or may want to specify whether you wish to be buried or cremated.

No two estate plans are exactly the same. Also, just because you execute a plan now does not mean you cannot make changes or update your plan down the line. In fact, a period review of your plan is a good idea to make sure its contents remain current and reflect any life changes that impact its instructions.

Many Pennsylvania estate owners turn to experienced estate probate and administration attorneys for help in developing and maintaining their plans.

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